Keep Your Dog Calm and Happy on a Long Car Journey
Establish Who Is In Charge Before You Set Off
Dogs in Cars
A dog in a car isn't a natural state of affairs, so it's no wonder that many dogs don't enjoy car travel. Some show their unhappiness by howling or barking, some chew the seats and others are simply sick. Occasionally dogs love to travel, but get so excited at the prospect of a car journey that they too leap around, chew and bark. None of this behaviour is good for either you or the dog; in fact, it's a distracting and therefore dangerous situation. If your attention is being drawn to your back seat, you aren't giving your full attention to the road, and that could cause an accident.
If you are planning a long journey with your pet, don't assume that he will be a model passenger. It is your job to train him to behave during your journey and to plan your trip taking his needs into account. The result will be a happy dog and a safe journey.
Puppy on a Journey
Dog Travel Tip # 1: Start Early
By making an early start, I don't mean set your alarm clock at 5 am on the day of your trip, I mean start training your dog to love car travel as soon as you get him. You can't expect a dog who has never been in a car, or who has travelled only rarely, to adjust immediately to a long trip. Instead, introduce your puppy to the car and do it regularly.
If you have a nervous puppy who doesn't like loud noises or new situations, try putting him in the car for a really short amount of time without even turning the engine on. Build up the time slowly and when he is happy with that, start the engine. Again, go slowly with a nervy pup. You don't need to go anywhere, just sit on the drive for a while with the engine running. Then graduate to short journeys to the store. Over time your dog will accept car travel and be ready to cope with a long journey.
A Happy Dog in the Back of a Car
Dog Travel Tip # 2: Make the Car a Happy Place
Dogs are creatures of habit and your dog is likely to accept a trip in the car if he finds his surroundings familiar and fun. With this in mind, put a familiar toy or blanket in the car for him. If you use a crate in the house and it will fit in the car, put that in for him to sleep in. Give him a treat to munch when he gets in to the car and praise good behaviour, just as you do around the house.
Don't scold "bad" behaviour like barking. Instead, work on your "quiet!" command when you are in the house, and use it in the car, making sure you follow it up with praise. Try not to get frustrated or annoyed in the car as dogs pick up emotions quickly. If you are happy and confident your dog is likely to be too. Conversely, if you are nervous and anxious, your dog will follow suit.
Dog Travel Tip # 3: A Tired Dog is A Good Dog
If you plan to get up on the day of your journey, breakfast and then set off, think again. Your dog will be a far better passenger if he is not full of energy and consequently bored. Make time to exercise him before you set off, even if that means getting up early. And don't make a half-hearted jog around the block, making it just long enough for him to go to the toilet. Have a proper walk, or better still, run. This will pay off in the long run as your dog will be far more willing to lie down and be quiet on the journey.
Safe in a Dog Harness
More About Dog Safety
Keep your dog safe whatever the weather, plus find out what to keep in a dog's first aid kit in my "Hub of the Day": Winter Dog Walks: Keep Safe and Healthy.
Dog Travel Tip # 4: Safety First
Sometimes you see dogs travelling in the backs of trucks or sticking their heads out of car windows and it does look like they are having a good time. However, you should have your dog restrained properly in the car, just like you have your other passengers safe with seatbelts. If you had to brake suddenly and your dog was not safely restrained, he could hurtle forwards injuring not just himself but anyone he crashed into.
There are three ways to keep your dog safely restrained in the car:
- in the back of the car behind a dog guard
- in a dog crate or carrier
- in a special seat restraint designed for dogs
Whichever method suits you best, make sure that you introduce it to your dog well in advance of your journey. To fail to do so will result in an unhappy dog who will make the journey miserable not only for himself, but for you.
If you are using a dog guard, put a blanket or bed in the back so that your dog feels comfortable. Ensure that the guard is fitted properly and will not collapse if your dog pushes against it.
Crates or carriers can be used in the house for short periods before the journey to let you dog get used to resting in them. Don't ever lock a dog into a crate; the crate should feel like a welcome sanctuary, not a prison. If the dog feels happy in his crate, your journey will run all the more smoothly.
Many dog harnesses are designed to double up as a seat belt harness. Therefore, you can start walking your dog with the harness so that he is accustomed to the feel of it. He should more easily accept being attached to the seat belt if he doesn't mind the feel of the harness. You might consider putting a blanket on the seat to protect your car seats.
Dog Travel # 5: Plan Breaks in Your Journey
Have a look at your route and plan in some stops to allow your dog to stretch his legs, have a drink and a toilet break. This is good practice for drivers too!
Don't stop at the side of the highway or motorway if you can avoid it. An over excited dog and roaring traffic don't mix; accidents happen and you don't want your dog getting loose on a busy road. Instead, plan to pull off into rest areas or away from the highway.
Don't Forget the Water!
Dog Travel Tip # 6: Don't Forget the Basics
When you are packing for a long journey it is easy to forget to pack things. Don't overlook your dog. Remember to pack water, some food and bowls. Take a first aid kit (don't share yours!). If you are planning to stop and do some sightseeing and leave the dog in the car, remember that dogs overheat in cars very quickly; don't let this happen to your dog.
You should have insurance for your dog anyway, but make sure that you have it before you go on a journey. It is when we are out of our regular routine that things are more likely to go wrong, and it is better to have one less thing to worry about.
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. It is not meant to substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, or formal and individualized advice from a veterinary medical professional. Animals exhibiting signs and symptoms of distress should be seen by a veterinarian immediately.